Chinese companies aim for bigger role in autonomous vehicle competition with US rivals

By Zhang Hongpei in Shanghai Source:Global Times Published: 2019/4/17 21:28:40

A view of Pony.ai's  autonomous vehicle at the Shanghai Auto Show on Wednesday Photo: Zhang Hongpei/GT



Despite lagging behind US autonomous driving technologies for some years, China's domestic players are confident of catching up with US participants in the near future and even overtaking them.

Pony.ai, China's autonomous driving start-up, also known as the domestic answer to Google's self-driving unit Waymo, aims at Level-4 and Level-5 technology. At those levels, humans can be truly freed from driving, the company's founders told a briefing held Wednesday during the Shanghai Auto Show. 

"Autonomous driving technology still encounters many challenges when it comes to large-scale commercial use," said James Peng, co-founder and chief executive of Pony.ai.

"But to our surprise, the technology has evolved at much faster speed than our predictions, which is amazing," he added.

Born in Silicon Valley in 2016, the company has expanded its research and development teams in Beijing and Guangzhou, capital of South China's Guangdong Province. 

It obtained a public road testing license known as T3 in Beijing for its driverless vehicles last July.

Pony.ai was approved by the California Department of Motor Vehicles to test its self-driving vehicles in 2017.

Peng told the Global Times on the sidelines of the event that Pony.ai will accelerate its robotaxi fleet build-out from last year's 40 units to more than 100 this year.

The ability to realize scale is key to survival for start-ups and that isn't done just by burning cash but also by developing related technologies, which can be expandable and matched with effective resources, said Peng.

The US driverless vehicle sector started earlier than China's and has accumulated more data, which is an important factor for developing such artificial intelligence in cars. 

Lou Tiancheng, co-founder and chief technology officer of Pony.ai, told the Global Times on Wednesday that the complex traffic scenarios encountered in China in one year can be on par with Waymo's experience during the past decade.

"The complexity is good for effective data collection. For example, we have much more data related to bicycle riding in China," Lou noted.



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